Two brothers, a murdered father and an untold story of pain and forgiveness are the inspirations behind an award-winning documentary on the secret death of a prominent evangelical pastor in Iran.
A Cry From Iran, co-directed by Bishop Haik Hovsepian's two adult sons, tells the martyr's story through the eyes of his sons.
"This was not a payback to the regime but this was an honest telling of our dad's story," said co-director Andre Hovsepian, who was only 10-years-old when his father was murdered.
"We could have been with the people who make bombs and think how we can get revenge," he said. "But one thing we want to emphasize is prayers are very important. As a result of those prayers, we have found the peace and comfort after the years of crisis and challenges in our lives."
The film's plot revolves around the disappearance and later discovered body of Bishop Hovsepian who was found secretly buried in a Muslim graveyard with 26 stab wounds.
His murder was linked to his effort to save a Christian convert from Islam who had already served 10 years in prison and was set to be executed simply for the crime of converting to Christianity.
Hovsepian had roused the United Nations, the U.S. Congress, and other global bodies to pressure Iran to release the convert. The bishop disappeared and was later found dead soon after he successfully helped free the convert, Mehdi Dibaj. The convert himself was also secretly murdered after his release.
"I think in his (Bishop Hovsepian's) mind it was releasing one man from prison but in the bigger picture it was about the Iranian Christians," said Joseph Hovsepian, the older son who co-directed and produced the documentary. "Of course he saw the dangers but it was a road that he had to take."
Surprisingly, the filmmaking brothers said Iranian Christians are relatively safe in society as long as they deny they are Christians, do not evangelize, are not converts from Islam, and do not challenge the regime.
"We hope to bring awareness to people in the West and as a result [of the documentary] they will appreciate life so much more," said Andre.
"You will really appreciate your life more and enjoy the freedom of worship that you have here after seeing the film," he added.
Iran is ranked third on Open Doors' World Watch List for countries with the worst persecution of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also lists Iran as a "country of particular concern," a label given to countries with the worst religious freedom abuses.
Overall, the brothers' project includes filming in five countries, interviews with 40 political and religion experts, family and friends, 42 months of production, and 200 hours of archive footage - including hidden camera footage from the streets of Tehran.
"This is a compelling, must-see documentary which graphically shows what Christians like Haik Hovsepian go through because they place their faith in Jesus Christ," said Open Doors USA president and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "He is definitely one of our modern-day heroes of the faith."
A Cry From Iran has been nominated for awards at eight festivals, won five, and is waiting for some to reply – including the prestigious San Antonio Christian Festival on Nov. 28. It has won the Grand Jury Award for the Most Original Documentary at the Faith and Film Festival and also the Audience Award for the Best Documentary at the Leith Film Festival.
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